Experienced discrimination and racial differences in leukocyte gene expression

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019 Aug:106:277-283. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.04.016. Epub 2019 Apr 19.


Racial disparities in health outcomes between African Americans and European Americans have been well-documented, but not fully understood. Chronic inflammation contributes to several of the diseases showing racial disparities (e.g., Human Immunodeficiency Virus [HIV]), and racial differences in stress exposure (e.g., experiences of racial discrimination) that stimulate pro-inflammatory processes that may contribute to differential health outcomes. We performed a cross-sectional bioinformatic analyses relating perceived discrimination (as measured by the Perceived Ethnic Discrimination Questionnaire [PED-Q]) to the activity of pro-inflammatory, neuroendocrine, and antiviral transcription control pathways relevant to the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA) in peripheral blood leukocytes. Subjects were 71 individuals (37 HIV-seropositive (HIV+); 34 HIV-seronegative (HIV-)) (mean age = 53 years, range 27-63), who self-identified either as African American/Black (n = 48) or European American/White (n = 23). This provided the opportunity to examine the independent effects of race and HIV, as well as the modifying role of perceived discrimination on pathways involved in CTRA. Exploratory analysis examined the interactive effects of HIV and race on pathways involved in CTRA. Relative to European Americans, African Americans showed increased activity of two key pro-inflammatory transcription control pathways (NF- кB and AP-1) and two stress-responsive signaling pathways (CREB and glucocorticoid receptor); these effects did not differ significantly as a function of HIV infection (HIV x Race interaction, all p > .10). Results suggested that differences in experiences of racial discrimination could potentially account for more than 50% of the total race-related difference in pro-inflammatory transcription factor activity. In sum, differential exposure to racial discrimination may contribute to racial disparities in health outcomes in part by activating threat-related molecular programs that stimulate inflammation and contribute to increased risk of chronic illnesses.

Keywords: African Americans; Gene expression; HIV; Racial discrimination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Computational Biology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Health Status
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Transcriptome / immunology
  • White People / psychology